The rise of booze-free backpacking: why gen Z are choosing to travel sober

Issy McDermott, a 23-year-old Sydneysider and group tour leader for Plotpackers, has shifted her lifestyle from a party-centered traveler to one who prefers cultural experiences and adventure. Over the past year, McDermott has chosen to travel for enriching experiences rather than drinking. This trend is being observed in many Gen Z travelers, a demographic born between 1997 and 2012, who are becoming more cautious, health-conscious, and risk-averse.

Dr. Amy Pennay, deputy director of the Centre for Alcohol Policy Research at La Trobe University, has been studying changes in young people’s drinking patterns for ten years. She attributes the decline in Gen Z drinking to their concerns about future economic security, increased parental surveillance, health-consciousness, and heightened anxiety and mental health issues.

Contiki, a travel company catering to young travelers, has observed that Gen Z travelers value experiences over big nights out. Their research revealed that most Gen Zs (77%) would consider an alcohol-free trip. Contiki has adjusted its focus to offer wellness, sustainability, and cultural experiences, including a K-pop dance class in South Korea and a tour featuring a Cree knowledge keeper teaching about plant medicine in Jasper National Park.

Boutique travel companies like Aweventurer are also catering to this shift in Gen Z’s travel preferences. They offer small group tours led by authors, influencers, and artists, where participants engage in intellectual discussions and experiences instead of drinking.

The cost of alcohol in Australia is also a significant deterrent for young backpackers like Lauren Frater, a 20-year-old British traveler, who had to adjust her lifestyle and spending to accommodate the high prices. The backpacker drinking scene is not extinct, but travelers like Frater and Bella Robben, a 20-year-old American backpacker, are choosing to drink less due to financial, health, and cultural reasons.

McDermott, who is planning to travel to Oman and Majorca next month, represents the growing number of Gen Z travelers who are choosing travel experiences over parties. This shift in travel priorities is forcing travel companies to adapt and offer more enriching, sustainable, and culturally immersive experiences.

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